The only time you should refrigerate tomatoes
What you’ll learn:
- Why scientists and research centers oppose refrigerating tomatoes – what actually happens?
- The only exception to the rule – when to refrigerate tomatoes
- The best temperature to store tomatoes
- How peel a tomato in 15 seconds without boiling water
When we lived in sunny Florida, we lived near a tomato farm and a tomato packing/distribution facility. Millions of tomatoes would leave our town every week in crates, headed for other distribution facilities to then be trucked to supermarkets across the United States.
The tomatoes are picked rock hard and unripe to protect its bumpy journey across conveyor belts, washing machines, trucks, crates and handling, stickering, bagging and the car ride to your kitchen.
So, once the tomato is in your home, what’s the best way to store for the best flavor, best texture and prevent spoilage?
How to store tomatoes
According to extensive research by the University of Florida Horticultural Sciences Department, the ideal temperature for ripening tomatoes is 65°F to 75°F.
But anything colder than 55°F causes loss of tomato aroma volatile chemicals that are responsible for tomato flavor and fragrance. This is especially true for unripe tomatoes that are still a little greenish in color. The tomato experiences “chilling injury” – pitting, mealiness, uneven ripening, decay and non-development of aroma compounds (source: USDA)
Basically, typical store-bought tomatoes in refrigerator will:
- Loss of flavor
- Loss of firmness
Most of this damage happens after day 4 in the refrigerator.
However, if you take the refrigerated tomatoes, and let them sit at warmer temperatures, some, not all of the flavor compounds return. (source: National Academy of Sciences)
When you should refrigerate tomatoes
So, scientific research tells us that refrigeration is bad for tomatoes. Nearly all of their research was testing commercial tomatoes — the ones that are harvested unripened and travel a long journey to your dinnerplate.
What about fresh, ripe tomatoes, picked off the vine….or purchased at the peak of ripeness at the farmer’s market?
Ripe tomatoes should still be kept at on your counter, uncovered, if you are going to enjoy the tomato in the next day or two. But any longer than that – the recommendation is to refrigerate. A so-so tomato is much better than a rotten, moldy tomato. Refrigeration will slow down the decay.
The crew at Serious Eats conducted testing using fresh tomatoes from the farmer and tomatoes just picked off the vine. They found that good quality, ripe tomatoes fared just fine in the refrigerator. But note that they used super fresh, at peak of ripeness tomatoes….not commercial, supermarket tomatoes.
Best way to refrigerate tomatoes
Remove the tomatoes from the bag. Place them in a brown paper bag and in your crisper drawer where humidity is higher. The plastic bag would trap too much moisture in the bag.
A better refrigerator for tomatoes
…is actually a wine refrigerator, set at 65°F, which is cold enough for your reds and warm enough for your tomatoes.
Your kitchen refrigerator is somewhere between 34°F-38°F.
Peel a tomato in 15 seconds
Forget boiling water and shocking! It takes too long, creates more dishes to wash and wastes energy. First you got to get a big pot. Fill it with water. Bring to a boil. Lower in the tomatoes. Get giant bowl. Add ice. Add water. Scoop out tomatoes, lower them to ice water immediately. Remove tomatoes and then peel skin off.
That’s a lot of steps!
Instead, I use a vegetable peeler. Just your regular, standard vegetable peeler. No need for a fancy serrated peeler. Just hold your tomato gently in your palm, and move the peeler quickly, back and forth in a short, zigzag motion. Similar to coloring with a crayon…or shading with side of pencil.
I have 2 favorite peelers. The OXO Good Grips because it’s so easy to clean (just throw in dishwasher) and comfortable to use. And the Kuhn Rikon Peeler, because it’s inexpensive and the blade is so sharp!! But the Kuhn Rikon peelers have to be washed by hand (just a quick rinse) and dried immediately to keep the blade sharp and prevent rusting. To me, it’s worth that extra 10 seconds to have a super-sharp, lightweight peeler. You can’t beat the price – less than $10 for 3 peelers.
How to ripen tomatoes
If you have some tomatoes that need ripening, the best way to do this is in a paper bag. Sunlight isn’t needed for ripening tomatoes – humidity and temperature control are the important factors.Set the bag on a sunny windowsill (or just pick the warmest spot in the house) — the paper bag just lets enough air circulate through the paper, keeps the right humidity in the bag and traps heat. Basically, the bag is acting like a mini greenhouse, according to Planet Natural Research Center.
Plastic bags trap too much humidity (causing mold instead of ripening). And just leaving the tomatoes on the counter won’t experience the ideal humidity needed.
To hasten ripening, throw an apple or banana in the paper bag as well. The fruit will emit ethylene gas as it ripens, which stimulates ripening of the tomatoes.
You can certainly freeze tomatoes, but they will become soggy and smushy when defrosted. However, mushy tomatoes are perfect for making sauces, purees or soups.
The best way to freeze tomatoes is to first peel the tomatoes (see above for a secret trick — to special equipment needed and no boiling water!), roughly chop and then bag for freezing. Make sure minimal amount of air is in the bag.
Tomato Powder – a super way to add flavor
If you have a dehydrator, great! Slice the tomatoes (no need to peel) and dehydrate. I like making tomato powder, which I consider a wonderful “spice” that I use in so many ways. Freeze the dried tomatoes first, it should only take a couple of hours. This makes the dried tomato become “brittle”, making it easier to process into a powder.
Place the frozen dehydrated tomatoes into a food processor or blender and process until it becomes a fine powder. Store in jar for 1-2 years in dark, cool spot.
Tomato powder is a wonderful all-natural vegan “umami” flavor enhancer. It will add a complex, savory-sweet flavor to soups, scrambled eggs, casseroles, stews, smoothies, sauces…well, pretty much any recipe you can think of. Ripe tomatoes have one of the highest concentrations of glutamate in fruits or vegetables. Drying the tomatoes intensifies the natural glutamates even more.
Add a bit of water to the tomato powder and you have instant tomato paste! A little more water and it’s tomato sauce.
If you aren’t up for making your own tomato powder, buy it for just a few dollars.
Ways to use Powdered Tomato
- I love it in my scrambled eggs
- Sprinkle on ground meat for burgers, meatballs, meatloaf
- Mix with dried shiitake powder and sprinkle on steaks before grilling
- Add to any marinade, especially for vegetables to be grilled!
- Add to soups
- Sprinkle on chicken for roasting or grilling. Or roasted potatoes. Or roasted brussels sprouts. Or intensify the flavor of your spaghetti sauce without watering it down!
University of Florida Klee Lab Research
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of United States of America
University of Florida Horticultural Sciences Department, November 2011 Issue No. 568
On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee
The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook, page 14
Molecular Recipes – Umami – the Delicious 5th Taste
United States Department of Agriculture
Effects of chilling on tomato fruit texture by Robert Jackman, Henry Gibson, David Stanley